The clock is ticking on federal farm legislation that pumps millions of dollars into crop research, insurance and market extension programs that aid the nation’s farmers.
“We need to get this farm bill passed by the House and the Senate and onto the president’s desk by Sept. 30,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Monday during a visit to a Spokane Valley grain inspection center.
Lawmakers have struggled to pass a new bill during the last two years as the traditionally nonpartisan issue of farm and food assistance became grist for a politically charged Congress. Now the issue faces a deadline as spats continue over how much money the federal government should spend to help poor people buy food.
A wide rift between the House of Representatives and the Senate remains.
Cantwell said legislative foot-dragging on spending jeopardizes efforts to establish foreign markets for Washington crops, particularly wheat and potatoes. More than 85 percent of Washington’s soft white wheat crop is exported each year. The lack of a farm bill also cuts the flow of research money to improve Washington apples and cherries.
A recent House proposal would reportedly cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over the next decade. Legislation that passed the Senate in June excises just $4 billion.
Neither the House nor the Senate proposal is likely to become law untouched by the conference process, in which members of both chambers come together to compromise. The problem, Cantwell said, is that the House hasn’t come to the table with a clear bargaining position.
“I don’t know what the House is doing right now, frankly,” Cantwell said Monday.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the House Republican Conference Chairwoman, said Monday the congresswoman is dedicated to passing a separate food stamp bill by the end of the fiscal year. McMorris Rodgers has not weighed in on Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor’s proposal, confirmed by top Republicans to be cutting close to $40 billion from food assistance.